A book that changed my life

It’s impossible to review Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 2010. I’ve been trying to come up with the words for weeks now.

Women have gotten PhDs dissecting this book, what it meant to women in 1963, and the repercussions of its publication. I cannot measure its goodness or badness in a few pithy sentences. In fact, I even have a hard time being critical about the book’s many flaws — mainly that it’s written for and about white, upper-middle class, straight, college-educated women. Plus, it seems, Friedan seems to think education is only for those white, upper-middle class, straight women.

Despite its flaws, I want to press this book into the hands of every woman I know (and a lot of the men). Ladies, we’re still perpetuating and falling victim to the Feminine Mystique. You should read it. Everyone should read it, not just to see how far we’ve come but how far we have yet to go.

This book has changed the way I think about things, the way I see things. It’s like a sixth sense, I see sexism everywhere. I find myself making sexist, anti-woman judgements all the time, and I’m abhorred by it. But at least now, I recognize it. It’s a small step, but still a step.

This book was an education for me, and I think it will be for you too. We never study women’s history in school, or the role women played in history. We learn about Betsey Ross (she made the flag), and then spend a paragraph on Suffrage, and that’s it.

I didn’t take any women’s history classes in college, and the one feminist class I took was not a good experience. I took a Women’s Lit course and was labelled “so male” by my classmates because I’m not a petite, “feminine” woman and because I disagreed with their interpretation of the short story “Sur” by Usula K. LeGuin. Eighteen years, and I’m still bitter about it.

So, since I’m having a hard time finding the words I’m going to take the easy way out, and share just a few of the surprising things I learned from and while reading The Feminine Mystique

  • Some of my friends are suffering from The Feminine Mystique right now in 2010. They’re smart women who quit their jobs to become stay at home moms, and until I read this book, I thought they’d kind of lost their minds. But that’s not it. They’re lonely, empty, and depressed. They’ve given up everything they are to be mothers and are finding that living your life for someone else, even someone else you gave birth to, blows. It’s not fulfilling so they turn to drinking and sexual fantasies in hopes to find fulfillment. So far, it’s not working.
  • Women were forced back into the homes by men returning from WWII who longed for these idealized mother figures they missed so much while in battle.
  • The fiction (which was quite popular then) in women’s magazines went from being about career-women looking for love (barf, I know), to women looking to be the perfect housewife. The male editors of the magazines only published stories (both fiction and non-fiction) about women as mothers and homemakers, which in turn forced the female writers to write about such things — even going so far as to write about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s cleaning (or it might have been cooking or party-hosting) tips rather than her poetry. If you don’t see Mommy Blogger written all over this portion of the book, there’s something wrong with you. Mommy-blogging might just be the second horseman of the second feminine mystique apocalypse. We have 1000s of women’s voices on the Internet and a majority are spending their time talking about the cute thing their kid did rather than, oh, anything else.
  • Prohibition? Yeah, it wasn’t a movement by a bunch of no-fun-having teetotalers who wanted to kill everyone’s buzz. No. It was a movement by women for women, because drunken men weren’t earning living and were beating their wives. It was a movement to help stop domestic violence, not to ruin everyone’s fun.
  • Mothers were (are?) blamed for everything — loving too much, loving not enough, and just generally fucking up everyone around them.

There was much more. Much, much, much more. The Feminine Mystique is the kind of book you read and then it takes about the rest of your life to process what it really means to you and the world around you.

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  1. Kurtis 25.Jul.10 at 11:40 am

    The idea that a career is self actualizing while parenthood is not is one most of the men and women I know reject.

  2. Jodi Chromey 25.Jul.10 at 12:17 pm

    I don’t think either a career or parenthood are self-actualizing on their own, which is why I was intentionally vague about giving up “everything.” It could mean career, hobbies (which seems like such a belittling word), any outside interest that provides someone with a sense of self.


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